Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“All the great inspiring leaders and organizations…think, act and communicate the exact same way… opposite to everyone else,” Simon Sinek revealed in his famous TED talk. They “start with why they do what they do.”
Consider how these transformational Whys moved masses to Think Again: “All men are created equal,” declared America’s founders; “I have a dream” – not a five-point plan – proclaimed Martin Luther King; “Think different” and “Just do it” urged Apple and Nike en route to brand domination.
In 2008, Barack Obama’s “Hope and Change” mantra quenched a thirst to challenge the status quo, helping him become the political equivalent of an iPad whose novelty rendered Hillary Clinton a vintage desktop.
As Obama predicted in his autobiography “Audacity of Hope,” he became a human Rorschach test, serving ”as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views."
Chanting “yes we can” while staring at Obama’s inkblot, supporters agreed with him that his nomination was “the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless… when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal… when we ended a war, secured our nation and restored our image.”
Obama’s inkblot sent a “thrill up my leg” for MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and convinced conservative David Brooks he’d be “a great president.” Newsweek compared the new president to Abraham Lincoln, and 65 percent of voters believed they’d be better off in four years.
Reflecting on the media’s role in creating the Obama phenomenon, CBS’s Bob Schieffer recently acknowledged, “Maybe we were not skeptical enough.”
The same is true of the soaring candidacies of anti-Washington insurgents Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. In their inkblots, supporters see trustworthy leaders whose Whys resonate. To voters hurt by our cronyist political system, and revolted by self-dealing politicians and their special interests, Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Sanders’ “A Political Revolution Is Coming” are the “Hope and Change” of 2016.
Hard-working Americans play by the rules and resent politicians who don’t. They’ve watched Wall Street and Washington boom while enduring stagnant wages, job insecurity, rising health-care costs and reduced living standards.
Now, with the economy growing at half its 100-year historic average, small businesses failures exceeding starts, U.S. debt approaching Greek proportions, and national security threats looming, many fear we’re bequeathing our children a less secure and prosperous America.
But on what rational basis do Trump and Sanders merit such unbridled loyalty? Even Trump is amazed, joking recently, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn't lose any voters.”
History shows that when politicians are elevated before winning in the marketplace of ideas, they stop answering questions and being held accountable, and then everybody gets trumped.
Case in point: Trump. The reality-TV star now refuses to appear at the last pre-primary debate, drawing plaudits from minions who celebrate his bullying and bombast. Meanwhile, inquiring minds want him to persuade his way to victory.
How would the self-described insider-dealer dismantle the cronyist system that rewards political connections over competitive excellence? If he’s free of special interests, why not end corporate welfare, such as ethanol subsidies favored in Iowa?
How does Trump reconcile his penchant for unilateral action with the constitution’s separation of powers, never mind America’s founding purpose – democratic self-governance of a free people?
How can Trump defend religious liberty while proposing a blanket ban on Muslims entering the US? How does he justify “eminent domain” whereby government can seize an individual’s property, even for private use, such as a casino parking lot?
Sanders is similarly vague. At CNN’s town hall, he described democratic socialism as “an economy that works for all,” a benign vision -- especially for younger voters -- considering its devastating track record. Socialism is a discredited idea because, Time’s Joe Klein wrote, “it dampens incentives, which dampens creativity, which leads to poverty.”
That’s why the Scandinavian social-democracies Sanders touts reformed their economies, reducing taxes and regulations. Doesn’t Sanders worry that his ideas will disincentive the very entrepreneurialism that transformed America from an agrarian backwater into history’s greatest economic wonder?
Sanders argues “the 1%” will pay for trillions in new government spending, though they rarely do. Instead, they pay lobbyists and lawyers to avoid taxes, and often stop working or move overseas. These are luxuries unavailable to the middle class and debt-saddled future generations who invariably pay when government grows.
America’s founders understood what Sanders doesn’t. Poverty is humanity’s natural state, and free enterprise is the best system for moving people toward productive and prosperous lives. What government-planner can design “an economy that works for all” that's better than the free market, where endless autonomous decisions are made efficiently, creatively and cooperatively?
Think Again – Sanders is right. A few rich people shouldn’t run America. Hopefully, voters willing to look beyond 2016’s inkblots will insist that a handful of politicians shouldn’t run the country either.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
If only Pope Francis were in my Buenos Aires taxi last Christmas.
I could have used his moral authority (and Argentine-accented Spanish) in negotiating with a driver who’d forgotten the “Golden Rule.” And in witnessing my struggle, the self-described “very allergic to economics” pontiff might have gleaned a moral lesson, helping him Think Again about the free enterprise system he’s criticized.
Perhaps he’d grasp why the life-enhancing innovations that America continuously exports – cars, vaccinations, refrigerators, iPhones, 3-D printers, and the cheap and reliable taxi-alternative Uber, for which I longed – don’t happen in Argentina.
Nor do they spring from other Latin American countries, like Venezuela where a protest sign encapsulated people’s contempt for the social-justice espousing frauds who run many Latin nations: “These Castro-Chavistas speak like Marx, govern like Stalin, and live like Rockefeller, while the people suffer.”
Would His Holiness recognize how Argentina’s corporatism – the unholy alliance between government and conglomerates – corrodes social trust, rendering his countrymen voiceless and crucifying their wellbeing and dignity?
After successive governments eroded the rule of law, property rights, and sound money, replacing free enterprise with central planning and a debt-financed welfare state, Argentina slid toward the bottom of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World Index.
Once the world’s breadbasket and fourth-richest nation per-capita – hence the saying “rich as an Argentine” – the Pope’s native land is now a basket case with economic wellbeing (GDP per-capita) only one-third America’s.
If the Holy Father had heard our cabdriver despair over widespread deprivation, corruption and distrust of everyone except the pontiff, might he agree with fellow rock-star Bono about how to lift up the masses? “In dealing with poverty,” Bono stresses, “welfare and foreign aid are a Band-Aid. Free enterprise is a cure.”
The patient is mending, the World Bank reported: For the first time in history, extreme poverty afflicts less than 10 percent of world population. Meanwhile, people in economically freer countries enjoy higher living standards, cleaner environments, longer lives, and better-protected civil rights. They also have less corruption, child labor and unemployment.
In his new book, “The Conservative Heart,” American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks calls the free enterprise system “America’s gift to the world,” enabling more people to pursue their happiness through earned success derived from work.
“It was the free enterprise system that not only attracted millions of the world’s poor to our shores and gave them lives of dignity, but also empowered billions more worldwide to pull themselves out of poverty,” Brooks asserts.
At home, however, America’s asymmetric recovery “has cleaved the country into winners and losers like never before,” he writes. Consequently, Americans fear our free society’s trademarks – opportunity and social mobility – are disappearing, imperiling our children’s security and prosperity.
We may be better off than Argentines, but with median income down 6.5 percent since 2007, record numbers out of the workforce, poverty and government dependency rates at all-time highs, and deaths of small businesses (job creation’s primary engine) exceeding starts for the first time on record, it feels like we’re slouching toward Argentina.
While Wall Street and Silicon Valley have boomed, the richest and most generous nation on earth contains pockets of destitution and immiseration – like Baltimore – where millions are deprived of the dignity and fulfillment of work.
Brooks’ snapshot of the last seven years is “deja-vu all over again,” Argentine-style: “People see corporate cronies getting rich because of their cozy relationship with the government. They see bailouts for huge banks but small businesses going bust. They see government loan guarantees for big companies with friends in high places, but hear ‘No loans for you’ from their local bank.”
Ranked among the world’s most economically free nations for decades, America has fallen to 16 in Fraser’s Index, due to these unfair government policies. Consequently, US annual growth is projected to be half its 3 percent historic average.
That His Holiness is unaware of the relationship between economic freedom and human flourishing is a sin, though not original. After all, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders sins similarly, arguing for greater government control of our lives, even at the expense of economic growth.
“You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants,” Sanders declared, “when children are hungry in this country” – as if narrowing deodorant choice could decrease hunger.
The truth is, poverty is humanity’s natural state, and free enterprise is the most merciful economic system yet designed for moving people toward productive and dignified lives. No central planner exists who’s capable of improving on the endless autonomous decisions made efficiently, creatively and cooperatively in the free market, as if divinely guided.
Think Again – as long as we enjoy the blessings of economic freedom, we have the choice not to attend the Pope Francis & Bernie Sanders School of Economics where the tuition is free, but extraordinarily costly, as my Argentine cabbie would confirm.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” is perhaps the most famous closing argument in American criminal justice history. Decisive in rendering a not-guilty verdict for OJ Simpson, it also summarizes our free society’s reliance on “due process” and “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
So that no innocent defendant is wrongly convicted, a guilty defendant may occasionally go free – like Simpson, who was later found liable by a civil jury applying a lower standard of proof.
Reflecting on the criminal trial’s not-guilty verdict, several jurors conceded that though they thought Simpson was guilty, the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, hampered by suspicions that police tampered with evidence. To African-Americans, the Simpson verdict leveled the justice system’s playing field; to others, it was a miscarriage of justice.
Two decades later, despite pervasive African-American political power throughout society and into the White House, race relations are tense and perceptions of justice diverge. Fueled by the tragic deaths of young black males after run-ins with law enforcement, protestors proclaim “no justice, no peace” while demanding authorities Think Again about upholding due process.
Like Ferguson, Baltimore raged after last month’s mysterious death of Freddie Gray while in police custody -- not without justification. Baltimore’s corruption and incompetence-plagued police department appears to have denied Gray the presumption of innocence and due process.
Now under the spotlight, a once-vibrant and safe Baltimore has become a synonym for mismanagement, catastrophic institutional failure and societal collapse, like much of big-city America. Neither afforded due process or their just due, many residents languish in cesspools of poverty and despair, despite per-pupil educational expenditures and a social safety net that far exceed national averages.
After decades of ever-increasing taxes and spending -- and a cronyist system that rewards the politically connected while blocking public-sector reforms, though claiming to protect the poor -- Baltimore is a tale of two cities where the privileged few are enriched at the expense of the disenfranchised many.
In America’s fifth-most-deadly city, the unemployment rate exceeds the national average by 50 percent and one-in-four Baltimoreans live in poverty -- a rate 250 percent higher than in 1960, before the $20 trillion “War on Poverty.” Gray’s blighted neighborhood suffers even greater poverty, fatherlessness, school dropouts, unemployment, crime, and dependency.
It’s a miscarriage of justice -- and the civil rights struggle of our time -- that the wealthiest and most generous country on earth contains pockets of destitution and immiseration where millions are deprived of the dignity and fulfillment of work.
Sparked by Gray’s death, legitimate frustration morphed into lawless rage, as looters and arsonists became the threat officials are elected to thwart. Yet, rather than uphold her duty to safeguard the equal rights and property of all citizens, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asked the police to “give those who wished to destroy, space to do that.”
Unfortunately, when rioters believe they can misbehave without consequence, order is lost and job-creating businesses – many black-owned -- flee. To curb the mayhem last week, Chief Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby announced the arrest of six police officers, including three for manslaughter and one for second-degree murder. “To the youth of this city,” Mosby proclaimed, “I will seek justice on your behalf.”
Famed civil rights lawyer Alan Dershowitz called the indictments “crowd control,” not justice. “Under our constitution,” he explained, “the only people entitled to justice are the defendants,” not the victim or community. Given the abandonment of procedural justice, Dershowitz predicts acquittals -- and more rioting.
However satisfying, OJ-type verdicts won’t solve urban America’s plight, nor will pouring more money into failed government institutions. But kids can overcome the real source of their angst – opportunity and values deficits – by following a three-step plan: graduate high school; get a full-time job; and wait until 21 to marry and have children.
“Our research shows that of American adults who followed these three simple rules, only about 2 percent are in poverty and nearly 75 percent have joined the middle class,” the Brookings Institution’s Ron Haskins wrote. They’re also less likely to require due process in criminal court, though there’s no guarantee, considering OJ.
To steer fatherless children toward opportunity’s 3-step Holy Grail will take a village of mentors, and a phalanx of moms – not police. Toya Graham became a national hero after retrieving her rampaging son so he wouldn’t “become another Freddie Gray.”
Graham’s plea is every mother’s hope, one that can’t be realized by government power, but rather through a government that empowers. Politicians could begin by not condemning children to failed schools, and by reforming the unfair system that enslaves innocents so guilty gatekeepers of union and other public-sector privileges reign freely.
Think Again – Human history is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that without equality under the law and due process, there can be no liberty and justice for all.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Aired-out uproariously on Saturday Night Live, “Deflate-gate” has been a national fixation since word broke that the New England Patriots used under-inflated footballs in their Super bowl birth-clinching victory over Indianapolis. The alleged cheating controversy has even pumped up the lovability of the oft-despised Seattle Seahawks.
However, Think Again if you believe Deflate-gate is merely hot air. Though overblown, Americans’ disquiet reflects our fairness instinct and commitment to equality of opportunity – the ideal that all competitors in the race of life, no matter their status, can succeed on a level playing field.
Sensing a slanted NFL field, Seahawk Richard Sherman questioned the close relationship between NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Patriot owner Robert Kraft, calling it a “conflict of interest.”
Sherman’s unease resonates in an America increasingly distrustful of society’s umpires. President Obama spoke to this anxiety in last week’s State of the Union address. “This country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules,” he declared, labeling this “middle-class economics.”
Yet the story of our five-year-old recovery is how poorly working Americans have fared. With workforce participation at forty-year lows, “America’s wealth gap between middle-income and upper-income families is the widest on record,” Pew Research recently reported. From 2010 to 2013, household incomes fell for all except the most affluent 10 percent, a 2014 Federal Reserve survey revealed, with the bottom 40 percent suffering disproportionately.
So while Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Washington boom, the rest of America suffers crisis levels of job insecurity, economic immobility and government dependency, with a record 50 million living in poverty.
That’s because our economy’s playing field is askew, warped by a cronyist system -- long in the making -- that is neither “middle-class economics” nor Thomas Jefferson’s ideal: “a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement.”
Free to pursue their individual life objectives, American entrepreneurs -- and immigrants fleeing societies where one’s start pre-determined one’s end -- transformed an agrarian backwater into human history’s greatest economic wonder. Between 1800 and 2007, economic well-being (real GDP per-capita) increased 32-fold in America compared to 14-times in Great Britain and 5-times in India.
It’s not a miracle; it’s the free market where rivals meet in open competition, generating a continuous stream of innovation, choice and value. In return for pleasing customers and being good corporate citizens, entrepreneurs earn profits.
As government has grown, so have its anti-competitive powers, corrupting the free market with corporate cronyism -- the incestuous relationship between Big Government and Big Business that rewards political connections over competitive excellence.
Our tax code is a cronyist masterpiece, allowing well-connected individuals and big companies like GE to lobby for, win and exploit tax breaks, rendering their tax bills negligible and affording lawmakers unending contributions.
Equally distortive are corporate welfare programs sold as economic saviors -- the 2009 stimulus, cash-for-clunkers, farm bill, bailouts, Export-Import Bank loan guarantees and Dodd-Frank “Wall Street reform.” Each benefits well-connected private companies, forcing Americans who “work hard and play by the rules” to subsidize elites who don’t.
Then there’s cronyism’s granddaddy, Obamacare, “the product of an orgy of lobbying and backroom deals,” according to Steven Brill, whose new book “America’s Bitter Pill” details how the $3-trillion-a-year health industry’s largest stakeholders – drug and medical device companies, hospitals, insurers – profited, at taxpayers’ expense.
When profits accrue to those with the most to invest in politics -- and the most to lose in the free market -- wealth and opportunity shift from ordinary people to the government and its friends. That’s why Americans struggling to maintain living standards must contend with ever-increasing prices in government-controlled sectors -- housing, health, and education.
Most worrisome, the small business sector, which generates two-thirds of new jobs, is languishing. Unable to grow in a market that protects large corporations from competition, and disproportionately burdened by an explosion of regulatory red tape, small business deaths now exceed business births for the first time in the Brookings Institution’s thirty-plus-year history of data collection.
So who are the greedy Gordon Gekko’s? Those who prudently risk hard-earned money to continuously deliver life-enhancing benefits – iPhones, 3-D printers, medicines, refrigerators – or cronies who relegate competitors, consumers, employees, and investors to the sidelines of a rigged game?
To protect our freedom and broadly share prosperity, shouldn’t we disperse power away from economic leeches, returning it to economic producers whose raison d'être is the fulfillment of needs and desires?
Think Again – It’s human nature to want competitive advantages -- whether tax breaks or deflated footballs. That’s why a free society needs referees with only enough power to assure fair competition, not so much that they become self-interested players in the game.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“The people have spoken…. and they must be punished,” former New York City mayor Ed Koch famously vented in defeat.
In sweeping away waves of Democrats in Tuesday’s midterm election – even in blue states like Maryland, Illinois and Massachusetts – a punished and disrespected American people have vented, silencing the politicians whose agenda and tactics they soundly rejected.
In this collective Think Again election, Harry Reid was demoted for allowing hyper-partisanship to trump the constitutional integrity of the Senate, known as the “world’s most deliberative body” -- except under Reid’s leadership.
Though Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu’s fate awaits a December run-off, she typified the political class’ disdain for constituents, attributing electoral woes to their sexism and racism. “The South hasn’t always been the friendliest place for African Americans,” she told NBC correspondent Chuck Todd during her campaign’s frantic homestretch, nor “a good place for women to present ourselves.”
But with the American Dream slipping beyond reach for ordinary citizens, and amid unease over America’s increasingly weak standing in the world, how is dissing one’s constituents a winning message?
Apparently, that’s shrewd politics, even in a state that thrice elected Landrieu and just re-elected its Indian governor, according to the New Republic’s Brian Beutler who applauded “Landrieu’s candor [because it] came in the service of her political interest.”
Herein lies America’s gravest problem, one that Tuesday’s midterm tsunami should help mitigate: Rather than do the right thing even when no one is looking – the definition of integrity – today’s self-serving leaders routinely do the wrong yet politically advantageous thing, even when everybody’s looking.
Whether in the Rose Garden, TV interviews, before Congress, or on the campaign trail, political elites have promised the unattainable, spun the news cycle with false narratives, stonewalled investigations, and smeared adversaries. Absent honest disagreement and accountability, the “truth” becomes any story that sticks, allowing them to coast on benevolent intentions, above their policies’ wreckage.
Labeling successive controversies “phony scandals” -- Obamacare chaos, dying veterans, murdered U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, IRS harassment, NSA snooping, Syria’s red-line erasure – they’ve managed to stay atop the responsibility-evading tight rope. Despite overwhelming foreign and domestic concerns, most campaigns refused to discuss Americans real preoccupations, paying dearly.
For too long politicians have played the identity politics trump card to win political advantage at the expense of the public good. Actively fomenting social unrest, they’ve cynically divided Americans into warring camps while short-circuiting the deliberation and debate on which national consensus in a pluralistic democracy depends.
Doubling down on the War on Women shtick, campaigns courted female voters like the Neanderthals they claimed their opponents to be. Consider the menacing Colorado ad about condom shortages because “Cory Gardner banned birth control,” or the contention that “A vote for Tom Cotton is a vote against Arkansas women.” Ironically, even Joni Ernst – now Iowa’s first female senator and a combat veteran -- was accused of waging a war on women.
Of Republicans, Congressman Charlie Rangel declared, they “believe that slavery isn’t over and that they won the Civil War!” Actually, Republicans – the Party of Lincoln -- did win the Civil War and passed the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments abolishing slavery and granting voting and due process rights to former slaves, though Democrats work hard to convince otherwise.
Reporting on these race-baiting efforts, the New York Times noted “how overtly they play on fears of intimidation and repression... -- invoking Trayvon Martin’s death, the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and Jim Crow-era segregation -- to jolt African-Americas into voting.”
The Times was surprised that “the effort is being led by national Democrats and their state party organizations.” In North Carolina, Harry Reid’s “super PAC” ran a radio ad linking senate candidate Thom Tillis to the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin in Florida, garnering four Pinocchios from the Washington Post. Additionally, incendiary leaflets distributed at black churches featured “a grainy image of a lynching,” foreshadowing a reversion to a pre-civil rights era if Sen. Kay Hagan lost.
To counter the cynical race baiting, Louisiana state senator Elbert Guillory and his Free At Last PAC ran ads across the south noting that while senators Landrieu, Hagan and Mark Pryor promised to be champions of the black community, the white-black gap grew in virtually every socio-economic category -- fatherless homes, high school dropouts, incomes, poverty, incarceration, and joblessness.
Ultimately, Guillory’s message – not Landrieu’s -- resonated. Even deeply red South Carolina re-elected a female Indian governor and a black US senator proving that southern voters judge on character and competence, not skin color or gender. Making America’s promise accessible to every demographic requires honest leaders who hew to their constituents’ concerns, not their own.
Think Again – in Koch’s ironic wisecrack was the insight that American voters punish failing leaders, not vice versa. May this be the lesson our new crop of leaders draw from their victory.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
It’s been an October of surprises. As U.S. health officials’ mistake-riddled handling of the deadly Ebola virus topped newscasts, the Denver Post editorial board captured headlines for its denunciation of Sen. Mark Udall’s campaign tactics, helping subdue the fevered politics that’s plagued us.
Insisting Udall -- dubbed “Mark Uterus” -- Think Again about his fixation on gynecological issues while “a great deal is at stake,” the Post’s endorsement of challenger Cory Gardner injected truth serum into a poisonously dishonest election season.
Noting Udall’s lack of leadership in Washington and his “obnoxious one-issue campaign” in Colorado, the Post contends “Udall is trying to frighten voters rather than inspire them with a hopeful vision.” As if inoculating himself from scrutiny, the Post notes Udall has spent a “shocking amount of energy and money…to convince voters that Gardner seeks to outlaw birth control despite the congressman's call for over-the-counter sales of contraceptives.”
The Post’s rebuke may not be a cure-all for mindless and dispiriting “War on Women” sloganeering, but it’s healthy if it incentivizes politicians like Udall to address constituents’ real preoccupations and priorities.
In addition to war with the Islamic State and Ebola, Americans face serious economic mobility concerns described last week by Federal Reserve Chairwomen Janet Yellen as significant “gains for those at the very top and stagnant living standards for the majority.”
Unfortunately neither striking an independent pose nor debating and shaping such great issues are allowed in Harry Reid’s Senate, contrary to the two-century history of the world’s most deliberative body.
With the Senate now less open and more partisan, unanimous Democrat votes set an all time high for either chamber, according to a recent study by Congressional Quarterly, with the average Senate Democrat voting the party line 94 percent of the time in 2013.
To maintain this governing conformity, Reid has denied votes on over 350 House-passed measures, many with large bi-partisan majorities, and used parliamentary trickeries to pass controversial measures on narrow party-line votes. Last December he activated the “nuclear option” eliminating the Senate’s two-century-old filibuster tradition (the 60-vote threshold requiring consultation with the minority) on most presidential nominees.
Smash-mouth politics has served the governing elites -- many of whom, like Reid, have parlayed influence into family fortunes -- but not Americans who feel ill served by the institutions they oversee.
Not surprisingly, two-thirds of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, a recent WSJ/NBC poll reveals. Furthermore, the two most respected federal agencies in a 2013 Pew poll – the Veterans Administration and Center for Disease Control -- are reeling from reports of veterans consigned to death by waiting list and Ebola-infected nurses. Considering presidential security lapses, even the Secret Service is suspect.
The merry-go-round of evasion and unaccountability is well known. First never-ending investigations are launched promising to hold people accountable. Then governing elites blame budget hawks -- even amid increasing budgets -- not misplaced priorities and misspent taxpayer money. Finally, to protect the governing agenda, appointed mouthpieces run interference, rambling incoherently at oversight hearings to run out the clock.
More worrisome than the cavernous competence gap is the politicization of every bureaucracy, even institutions charged with equal enforcement of laws, like the Justice Department and IRS.
Aided and abetted by elected officials who defend the indefensible, the Administration diverts our attention with false assurances: you can keep your health insurance and your doctors; there’s not a smidgeon of corruption at the IRS; al Qaeda is on the run; the border is secure; and a US Ebola outbreak is extremely unlikely.
Unsettled by Ebola’s transmissibility and skeptical the government can track and contain the lethal virus, Americans want travel restrictions from affected African countries. Yet President Obama resists, claiming a ban could lead to more Ebola cases.
Willing to defy public opinion before an election, imagine what controversial policies Obama will pursue afterward. An Iranian nuclear deal that sidesteps Congress and legalization of illegal immigrants are reported, though political allies like Udall studiously avoid these issues.
In a television interview this week, Udall admitted to being “brain-dead,” which isn’t surprising given how dumbed down and non-deliberative the Senate has become. Had Udall and Reid succeeded last month in passing their constitutional amendment to refashion the First Amendment (under the guise of campaign-finance reform), there’d be even less need for politicians to defend themselves in the marketplace of ideas.
Calling the senators’ amendatory efforts “exceedingly dangerous to the democratic processes,” the American Civil Liberties Union warned the amendment “would lead directly to government censorship of political speech… fundamentally break the Constitution and endanger civil rights and civil liberties for generations” -- a contagion our society couldn’t endure.
Think Again – with sunlight being the best disinfectant, Coloradans could have a senator who’ll represent our interests in Washington, not a servant of Washington’s agenda back home.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
At the tumultuous summer’s close, when throat-slashing, genocidal jihadists and economic malaise dominated headlines and our psyches, Hillary Clinton announced her preoccupation.
"Climate change is the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face," she proclaimed, adding, “no matter what the deniers try to assert” -- thus dismissing from polite society those inclined to Think Again about America’s greatest concerns.
Like Clinton, members of the “Church of Settled Science” invoke the moral equivalent of Holocaust denial to reject those deeming climate change less dangerous than other threats, like the Islamic State, a nuclear Iran, a debt-laden stagnant economy, or record levels of poverty.
Their Church gospel considers it “anti-science” to believe climate change is a naturally reoccurring phenomenon to which mankind has always adapted, and still can. After all, as Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore said before congress, because “frost and ice are the enemies of life…. a warmer temperature than today’s would be far better than a cooler one.”
Nevertheless, it’s an excommunicable sin to oppose tax and regulatory policies that would barely limit global emissions but would increase economy-wide prices, retard economies, and reduce standards of living -- disproportionately among the poor.
According to their dogma, it’s blasphemous to oppose giving unaccountable bureaucrats (in the EPA or internationally) unprecedented power to centrally plan and control economic life, without even a vote of Congress.
That’s because the faithful overlook the stunning failure of their doomsday-predicting models to forecast warming’s nearly 18-year pause (confirmed by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), or Al Gore’s 2007 prediction that polar bears’ Arctic habitat would be ice-free by 2013.
Thankfully for children fearing polar bear extinction, current satellite readings by the US National Snow and Ice Data Center reveal Arctic ice larger than when Gore accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for his global warming activism -- an Alaska-sized expansion since 2012.
Clearly scientists don’t yet understand the relationship between rising CO2 levels and global warming -- now conveniently called climate change, rendering all planetary events explainable by a theory whose falsification is impossible.
Unfortunately, the skepticism required for scientific discovery is now punished, as MIT professor of atmospheric physics Richard Lindzen described. “Scientists who dissent from the alarmism have seen their grant funds disappear, their work derided, and themselves libeled as industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse,” he wrote. “Consequently, lies about climate change gain credence even when they fly in the face of the science that supposedly is their basis.”
Today, skepticism is synonymous with greed and immorality to Church adherents who bask in the influence and profits they derive from sermonizing and policy advocacy. Yet, they ignore the “inconvenient truth” that their policies adversely impact the lifestyles of the budget conscience.
So, who are the heretics?
Are they alarmists intent on circumventing scientific inquiry and the free and open debate on which national consensus in a pluralistic democracy depends, or skeptics “not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead,” as Thomas Jefferson encouraged?
“It is error alone which needs the support of government,” Jefferson believed, because “truth can stand by itself.”
In his Farewell Address noteworthy for military-industrial-complex warnings, President Eisenhower articulated the modern version of Jefferson’s concern. “A government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity,” he said, and “the prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.”
The modern era is awash in government–abetted tragedies precipitated by theories claiming to advance the human condition but which, in fact, involved anti-poor and anti-progress policies. Thomas Malthus’ theory that population would always outstrip resources justified 19th-century British tax and regulatory policies to constrain human aspirations. The result was poverty-induced famine in Ireland and India, and 20 million victims.
Ensuing in the 20th-century were even more deadly policies – derived from Malthusian-based eugenics and resource depletion theories -- proving Jefferson’s observation that “even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”
Malthus’ theories are as wrong as they are immoral. Since his time, world population grew seven-fold as well-being (world GDP per capita) grew 50-fold, thanks to human ingenuity and economic freedom.
Today, life-enhancing devices unimaginable to Malthus – refrigerators, phones, air-conditioning, cars, and televisions -- are commonplace, except among the poorest. Why decrease their affordability by increasing the cost of the energy required to make, distribute and run them?
The truth is, affordable energy and the economic growth and well-being it enables are the keys to addressing our greatest concerns, including the environment, joblessness, poverty, and indebtedness – even terrorism.
Think Again – To pass a secure, prosperous and clean world to future generations, shouldn’t we encourage – not constrain -- the scientific inquiry that informs and unleashes boundless human creativity?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Imagine a 4th of July tradition like Hollywood’s where each year the Oscars pay homage to fallen stars. Liberty-loving Americans would fete public servants who’ve honored Thomas Jefferson’s rule to “leave no authority existing not responsible to the people.”
Might celebrating trustworthy stewards inspire Americans to Think Again about our founders’ insights, ingraining a culture that prizes democratic accountability and lawful government, the one that transformed our risky political experiment into history’s freest and most prosperous society?
We’d be celebrating two recently passed stalwarts who put country and constitutional order before party: Senator Howard Baker, the Senate Watergate Committee’s ranking Republican who famously asked “what did the President know and when did he know it,” and Johnnie Walters, President Nixon’s IRS commissioner, who refused to target his “enemies list.”
Like our Founders, Baker and Walters understood that where equality under the law goes, so goes freedom. Therefore, the greatest threat to civil society and human potential is a powerful, deceitful and unaccountable government where the few rule the many.
That’s why the Founders designed a liberty-preserving system that fragmented and checked government power among equal, competing branches, conferring ultimate authority upon the people -- not our representatives.
Respectful of Jefferson’s rule, unlike many in today’s “Ruling Elite,” it’s doubtful Baker or Walters would stomach the IRS targeting Americans for their political beliefs, or the evaporation of email evidence critical to congress’ investigation -- called “a conspiracy theory” by the White House.
Journalistic sleuths Woodward and Bernstein know that government accountability derives from an active media and an informed citizenry. In comparing the IRS and Benghazi scandals to Watergate, they criticized the media for abandoning its constitutionally protected watchdog role, appearing instead to protect the government from Americans.
Public servants may arrive eager to drain Washington’s cesspool, but after harnessing governmental power and dispensing money and favors, they discover it’s a hot tub made inviting by politicians, bureaucrats, public-sector unions, lobbyists, donors, and the media.
Our greatest challenge -- and the biggest threat to the world’s oldest (and shortest) constitution -- isn’t a left versus right tug-of-war, but a struggle to wrest power away from those who collude at the citizens’ expense.
Incentivized to invest in influence instead of innovation, Big Business (currently enjoying record profits) can buy access to trillions in spending, tax and regulatory favors. The result is a heavily indebted citizenry and a stagnant economy warped by cronyism, as evidenced by the 2.9 percent plunge in first-quarter U.S. GDP -- the worst non-recession contraction in over 40 years.
Not surprisingly, the small business sector that accounts for two-thirds of net new job creation is suffering as “business deaths now exceed business births for the first time in the thirty-plus-year history of our data,” according to a new Brookings Institution report on declining business dynamism.
While Wall Street and Washington boom, the rest of America suffers crisis levels of income stagnation, underemployment, economic immobility and government dependency, with a record 50 million living in poverty.
Yet as the American Dream slips beyond reach for ordinary citizens, those who oppose the Ruling Elite are labeled extremists, proving George Orwell’s adage that “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.”
Consider last month’s Mississippi Senate run-off that spoilsman Thad Cochran narrowly won, thanks to crony donations and promises to keep the gravy train running, unlike his “extremist” opponent.
But who are the extremists? Those who advocate free markets, equality under the law, fiscal responsibility, constitutional adherence, in God we trust, and peace through strength – the campaign platform of David Brat, Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s vanquisher – or the Ruling Elite who subvert these guiding principles?
Though distressed Americans clamor for law, order and security on our southern border, slack immigration-law enforcement has accelerated unlawful migration. Exacerbating the lawlessness are lawmakers like Nancy Pelosi who called the deluge of illegal immigrants an “opportunity.”
Unfortunately, the opportunity is at the expense of working Americans, considering all employment growth since 2000 went to immigrants (legal and illegal), the Center for Immigration Studies reported.
Meanwhile, with Congress requiring border security prior to any amnesty, President Obama intends to act alone, as he did in 2012 when he indefinitely suspended deportations of 550,000 alien youths, granting them work permits.
Commenting on Obama’s intentions following his twelfth unanimous Supreme Court rebuke for federal power over-reach, constitutional law professor and Obama-voter Jonathan Turley explained, the President “can’t say the solution to gridlock is you simply have to resolve it on my terms.”
Having overthrown King George’s unfair and arbitrary rule, our Founders established an America of, by, and for the people – not Ruling Elites -- stipulating that presidents “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
Think Again – wouldn’t a shared allegiance to our constitutional order be the best way to realize a more perfect union, for “ourselves and our posterity?”
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Last week, as Ukrainian émigré-turned-tech tycoon Jan Koum prepared to cash a multi-billion dollar check from Facebook -- acquirer of his start-up “WhatsApp” -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was checking-out of his Gatsby-esque estate where he’d cached his stolen plunder.
That the two Ukrainians derived their riches under diametrically opposed systems – free enterprise versus banana republic – Illustrates why all income inequalities are not created equal.
Most don’t resent the rich -- only the undeservedly rich – as a recent Venezuelan protest sign conveyed: “These Castro-Chavistas speak like Marx, govern like Stalin, and live like Rockefeller, while the people suffer!”
Koum’s affluence springs from a free society in which everyone has a God-given right to go as far as their work and talent will take them. Yanukovich’s hijacked wealth is exploitive, depriving others of dignity, opportunity, and economic mobility. One system disperses power as it champions an individual’s right to pursue happiness; the other concentrates it while stifling human potential.
There will always be a top 1%. The question is: will they be hardworking and productive people whose value creation benefits society – think Steve Jobs and JK Rowling -- or cronies living off perks extracted from the labor of the little people?
In America, we have increasing numbers of both which is why we must Think Again before allowing policymakers to concentrate more power in the name of social justice. In fact, economic liberalization is the real cure.
Economically freer countries enjoy greater growth, opportunity, civil rights and health, as evident in the yawning gap between North and South Korea, and in Asia where hundreds of millions have escaped grinding poverty.
To secure their freedoms, Ukrainian protestors resemble Koum’s mother. She fled Kiev for California in 1992 with 16-year-old Jan in search of religious liberty, privacy from Ukraine’s surveillance state and the opportunity to realize a better life.
Though they struggled upon arrival, relying on public assistance, Jan’s climb from food stamps to Facebook fortune was jagged and improbable -- a journey he honored by signing the $19 billion sale agreement outside the building that once housed the food stamp office.
The Koum tale is a triumph made possible by America’s system of free enterprise and limited government, which produced human history’s most dynamic and decent society.
Today the American Dream is increasingly out-of-reach for those stuck in government dependency or struggling to survive amidst stagnant wages, declining job mobility, and ever-increasing health care, food and energy costs.
Confusing the symptom with the disease, President Obama rails against income inequality, pronouncing it “the defining challenge of our time.” But he has it backwards -- economic stagnation causes income inequality, not vice versa.
Obama also ignores the social mobility-impairing trend of single motherhood, which exploded from 4 percent in 1960 to 42 percent currently, accounting for 50 percent of chronic poverty.
Instead of targeted policies to eradicate poverty – eliminating welfare’s marriage penalty and allowing parents to choose the school that’s best for their child --- Obama’s proposed minimum wage hike and unemployment-insurance extension are mere Band-Aids on the cancer of opportunity inequality.
Five years of Obama’s trickle-down-government policies have buoyed Wall Street, corporate America and Washington, DC where seven of America’s wealthiest counties reside – like the capital of “Hunger Games” whose powerful aristocracy lives off the tribute paid by impoverished citizens in the territories.
Despite trillions of stimulus and War on Poverty spending -- causing debt to swell 63 percent -- the nearly five-year economic recovery has one-quarter the GDP growth rate of the Reagan recovery. Though the stock market has doubled, median household income fell 6 percent, labor force participation hit a 35-year low, and a record 47 million Americans now live in poverty.
While not Yanukovich-style graft, our government transfers hundreds of billions of dollars annually to the affluent, thanks to cronyism, corporate welfare and entitlement programs that don’t distinguish between ordinary Americans and corporate jet owners.
Last year, America’s richest 10% captured the greatest share of pre-tax income growth since the Roaring 20’s, according to University of California-Berkeley economist Emanuel Saez. He also showed the top 1% capturing 95 percent of income gains during the Obama Recovery (2009-present), compared to 65 percent during the Bush expansion (2002-2007).
That so many Americans have fallen behind is both appalling and avoidable, and a reflection of America’s deteriorating freedoms. Formerly second in the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Index of Economic Freedom behind Hong Kong, America is now twelfth -- below Estonia.
Bequeathing our children an economically stagnant America is a choice, not a destiny. Our real “defining challenge” is to restore the growth that creates jobs, opportunity, social mobility and future Jan Koum’s.
Think Again -- Shouldn’t our goal be to unleash the dreams and talents of all Americans – especially former food stamp clients – so they can lead fulfilling and happy lives?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“Life’s greatest happiness,” Victor Hugo wrote, “is to be convinced we are loved.” As most experienced couples know, love-induced happiness is a year-round triumph, not the outcome of a singular, mass-marketed Valentine’s celebration – the one Jay Leno calls “Extortion Day.”
But men ignore this expectation-filled Hallmark holiday at their peril, which is why it’s become a $16 billion industry. More than heart-shaped bling, women savor attention -- a lesson noted by politicians.
Just as women beware of transient Romeos, they must Think Again about politicians who whisper sweet nothings into their ears, over-promising before an election and under-delivering after winning their commitment.
A frequent refrain of President Obama’s -- asserted as earnestly as “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it” -- is the claim repeated in his State of the Union address that women “make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.” Promising to close the “embarrassing” gap he declared, “Women deserve equal pay for equal work.”
While discrimination can’t be ruled out, should it be the default explanation? Are whites the victims of discrimination because they earn less than Asians? If women do the same work for less, why would anyone hire a man?
Playing honest broker and mindful of research studies, feminist Hanna Rosin wrote in Slate, “I’ve heard the line enough times that I feel the need to set the record straight: It’s not true.”
Though the rhetoric is as empty as the calories in a box of Valentine’s chocolates, it sells, 51 years after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act to prohibit gender-based wage discrimination.
Equally delicious are Orwellian-named laws like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would increase the risk of costly litigation for employers, discouraging the hiring of women whom the law purports to protect. That’s because “employers could not use fewer hours, less education, and lower performance to evaluate salary differences,” explained Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the Labor Department.
Nevertheless, opposing labor market-imperiling legislation – sops to the trial-lawyer lobby that kept tort reform out of Obamacare – is worse than overlooking Valentine's Day. It's a “War on Women.”
Yet asserting that women make less than men for the same labor without considering hours worked, education, industry, job tenure, and marital and parental status, is like saying women are cheated out of food because men consume more.
That men and women possess different minds and bodies, have distinct interests and life goals and make unique choices largely explains gender-gaps, though many feminists resist these truths. Incredibly, sex differences are also overlooked in medical research and treatment, a dangerous oversight attributed to feminism in a recent 60 Minutes report.
Women make less than men, Rosin posits, because they “don’t want to work the same way men do” – a theory confirmed by a 2007 Pew survey in which 79 percent of working mothers preferred part-time or no work, compared to only 12 percent of fathers. They’re also happier working part-time, according to an American Psychological Association study.
Additionally, women consciously choose the least lucrative college majors and enter less demanding and lower-paying occupations, even in medicine where men predominate in higher-paid specialties requiring more training and hours.
Economic studies that consider these differences report a full-time wage gap as small as 5 percent. Meanwhile, the New York Times reported, women earn 10 percent more than men for part-time employment involving 5 to 39 hours.
"The point here,” Rosin argues, “is not that there is no wage inequality. But by focusing our outrage into a tidy, misleading statistic we’ve missed the actual challenges."
Those challenges include the feminization of poverty triggered by an explosion of single-motherhood (42 percent overall and 73 percent among blacks), and a declining standard of living caused by falling wages, less work and skyrocketing healthcare, food, and utility costs.
Nearly five years into an economic recovery the AP labeled the feeblest since the Great Depression, we have 4 million fewer jobs than in 2008 (despite working-age population growth of 14 million), crisis levels of government dependency, and severe underemployment. Though women have regained more jobs than men, Census data shows a record 17 million live in poverty compared to 12.6 million men.
There are programs that could help women rise out of the safety net onto the ladder of opportunity -- if targeted with cupid-like precision -- though intact families are the best remedy. Ultimately, the ideal bed of roses is a robust economy, higher-paying jobs and the disposable income boost that comes from lower prices – all of which are undermined by current policies.
Most importantly, women mustn’t allow suitors to romance them with bouquets of sweeping government programs that wilt at the challenge, but never die.
Think Again – Aren’t pandering politicians who mislead in pursuit of one-night stands on Election Day the ones waging the War on Women?